Seniors Rally Against Cuts To Medicare, 47 Arrested

By Aricka Flowers for Progress Illinois

More than 1,000 Chicago-area seniors and their allies took part in an act of civil disobedience today to push back against cuts to safety net programs, like Medicare and Social Security. The group rallied outside of the offices of U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) at Federal Plaza.

“I made the decision to participate in civil disobedience as an act of conscience,” said Emily Byrd with the Jane Adams Senior Caucus (JASC). I could no longer stand idly by while vital safety net programs are in danger of being cut. What is at stake is not only seniors’ ability to live with dignity and economic security, but the future of our country. I am here today to fight not just for seniors, but for my children and grandchildren.”

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-9), Danny Davis (D-7), and Mike Quigley (D-5) as well as Sen. Durbin were at the event to hear from the seniors, clergy and advocates calling on Congress to pass a budget that strengthens safety net programs and “solve[s] the revenue crisis by raising taxes on millionaires and closing loopholes for banks and big corporations,” according to an announcement. Kirk was called out for his failure to accept an invitation to attend the event.

“Senator Kirk needs to remember that he is accountable to the voters of Illinois,” said Arrie Jones of the Community Renewal Society. “We are here to let our elected officials know that we will not stand silently by while they allow cuts to vital safety net programs. We will continue to fight for a society in which all people can live with dignity and economic security.”

The show of action, led by JASC, resulted in 47 arrests; 15 of which were seniors with the group, according to the Huffington Post. They were issued tickets for blocking the public way at Jackson and Clark Streets, where the protesters marched after the rally at Federal Plaza and chanted “The people, united, will never be defeated.” Occupy Chicago says four of those cited were people in mobile-assisted devices.

The rallyers called on the Illinois Congressional Delegation to get a budget passed that protects seniors and low income families, not just the interests of the super rich.

“I believe that Medicare and Medicaid are critical ways in which our society demonstrates a common commitment to honor our fathers and mothers; to share in the care of the vulnerable; and to put our often stated values about the dignity of our elders into practice,” said Pastor Fick of Ebenezer Lutheran Church. “Investing in the health of older adults, and safeguarding the honor and dignity of our parents and elders, is a matter of faith for me, and a deeply help American value.”

Occupy Chicago joined the seniors in their effort, calling for an end to budget cuts that will negatvely affect those who are already struggling the most.

“We are fighting for our elders, for our children, and for our future. Their welfare is our priority. We demand our elected leaders, like Durbin, Kirk and ‘Mayor 1%’ Emanuel, choose to serve the people, and protect the programs that ensure our futures.” said Rachael Perrotta, an office worker and participant in Occupy Chicago, in a press release.

As the congressional Super Committee’s November 23 deadline looms near, seniors and their advocates fear that a large portion of the $1.2 trillion in federal budget savings the legislators are tasked with finding will come from safety net programs that provide life-saving assistance to seniors.

“What are they going to cut? Our social security checks? Our Medicare and Medicaid? Many older women, especially older women of color, would suffer the brunt of these cuts,” Mary Burns, a retired nurse’s assistant and leader of JASC, said in an announcement. “Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk need to hear that seniors are the members of the 99% and have something to say about this issue and these programs.”

According to Occupy Chicago, the group was able to convince the legislators in attendance to take a pledge in support of protecting safety net programs. “All of the elected officials pledged to a values statement, saying they would oppose cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and HUD, and that they would push Mark Kirk to do the same,” reads a media alert from the movement. Occupy Chicago also reports that one of the participants in today’s rally was more than 100 years-old.

Karen Bocker, an Occupy Chicago participant and grandmother of four, says she is fed up with cuts to social service programs. “At every level of society, Americans are under attack,” Bocker said. “When the economy tanks, social programs are cut, not corporate tax breaks. We are under attack, and frankly, I’m tired of it. The very people who are hurt most from cuts to social services – services that our tax money are supposed to guarantee – are those who can least afford it.”

Today’s show of action was also supported by Access Living, Bickerdike, Action Now, Chicago Housing Initiative, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Lakeview Action Coalition, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Northside P.O.W.E.R., Organization of the Northeast, SEIU* Homecare Illinois/Indiana, Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation and Southside Together Organizing for Power.